Tony Momoh: The transition of a titan
The news flash of Prince Tony Momoh’s transition to luminous heights, as he himself would have described his own passage to immortality, was a rude shock to me. Though I was conscious of his being an octogenarian as well as aware of the great and impactful life that he lived, I still feel a personal sense of monumental loss because he was undoubtedly my destiny helper, having been used by the ever-dependable benevolent God and divine providence to kick-start my brief but eventful journalism career. And I am left with regrets that I did not celebrate him sufficiently while he was with us on this side of eternity. Perhaps I feared out of misguided self-righteousness that it was professionally inappropriate and that it would have smacked of self-serving predatory sycophancy for me to valorize the unassuming Prince when he was obviously in a vantage position to be a catalyst to my journalistic career. Probably out of misguided modesty, I believed that it would amount to currying favour or meaningless hero-worshipping to catalogue the numerous virtues of this sober and highly reflective quiet achiever. The unvarnished truth is that it was difficult, if not impossible, to tell the truth of Tony Momoh’s good nature, practical fairness, sense of social equity and natural justice as well as his genius and great accomplishments while he was still alive and in a position to influence things without sounding sycophantic. While I appreciated him in several forums and on many platforms, I feel like I did not venerate him as much as he deserved as one of my destiny helpers.
I acknowledge the brief and few privileged moments that I spent in the company and presence of Prince Tony Momoh, the ever-busy voracious reader and prolific writer, was intellectually edifying, professionally rewarding, soul-lifting and spiritually elevating. Tony Momoh was an obligate and natural philosopher, a journalist’s journalist, a writer’s writer, a mentor of mentors and a multivalent and all-round professional in whose presence your genius and intellectual pretensions were sure to be rebuked by his superior wit, native wisdom, and infectious candour. At the untimely death of my biological father, Chief E.B. Ajayi, which occurred during the early stage of my journalism career, Tony Momoh told me matter-of-factly that I should brace up to face my life with courage and conviction while my other senior colleagues were profusely consoling me. He philosophically posited that everything that happens to a man (seemingly good or bad) happens to him for his own good and that whatever we go through grows us. It was the Auchi Prince’s distinctive way of interpreting the scriptural saying: “All things work together for good for those who love God and who are called according to his purpose.”
Where is that Tony Momoh’s boy? That was typical Mr. Kola Ojo and Sam Ogwa, the News Editors of Daily Times at the time, both of blessed memory now. You would think they didn’t know my name. My Daily Times career had started with an unusual drama with me presenting a letter of appointment signed by the great and no-nonsense Prince Tony Momoh designating me a Senior Journalist, which the News Editors obviously considered bogus for a fresh graduate from the Times Newspaper Training Centre (TNTC) much later re-christened Times Journalism Institute. What does Senior Journalist mean, they censoriously inquired?
I had received my employment letter from the big man himself, after waiting for over six months for the automatic appointment that I expected because it was the tradition to give automatic employment to the Best Graduation Student of the TNTC. He gave me the marching order to report to the Science Editor, who was functioning from the Features Desk then and the News Editors, but he said that he expected me to be contributing both news reports and feature materials. My flamboyant title initially attracted both envy and mocking remarks to me in the newsroom as some old hands they wondered what this Tony Boy would contribute to the great Daily Times.
I remembered one sub-editor who was saying it loudly to my hearing: Tony has come with his “training schoolboys” again. I initially felt some hostility from both sub-editors, fellow reporters, and newsroom pool typists, which I partly attributed to the outlandish designation in my appointment letter. However, all the open hostility evaporated after the “red-letter-day” trashing of a story from an important assignment that I attended at the instance of Prince Tony Momoh. Being good in typewriting, I usually type my stories, but I gave this unique and obviously high priority story to one of the typists because it was important to type it before the daily news conference and because I had two other stories to type. Not being used to me giving him stories for typing, the typist did not only refuse to type the story, but he also threw it in the trash can. The next day the story which contained the major issue of the assignment I covered was missing from the Daily Times, but the subsidiary stories that I typed myself were published. So, Prince Momoh came majestically to the newsroom with obvious anger to the newsroom. How did you miss the big news about the event that was published by The Guardian and the Punch newspapers? I explained that I didn’t know why the story was not used but that I wrote it. We immediately and eventually traced the story to the trash can of one of the typists, who claimed self-righteously that it was given to him for typing by that boy on attachment (pointing to me!). The old typist, having gotten to Daily Times before I went to the journalistic school, obviously considered it audacious for me to ask him to type a story, though that was the job for which he was earning his pay packet.
To be continued tomorrow.
Dr. Ajayi, former science editor of Daily Times and Member of Daily Times Editorial Board.
He was later Information Officer at the United Nations, Communication Specialist at DFID, Senior Special Assistant on International Development Cooperation to President Goodluck Jonathan, DG-NDLEA, and ES-PTDF.